This year marks the 90th Anniversary of Montgomery Playhouse a regional theatre group located now in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The City of Gaithersburg (the Mayor, Jud Ashman, and City Council) issued a proclamation before their Saturday, June 8th show to honor their 90 years of service to the community.
You might be interested in how a local theatre group lasted all these decades. On May 22, 1929, a group of theater buffs met “for the purpose of discussing the formation of a dramatic organization in Montgomery County.” They wound up calling themselves “The Montgomery Players” and arranged for the use of the stage at the then new Leland Jr. High School in Bethesda. Their first play, “A Successful Calamity” by Clare Kummer, was performed in October of that same year.
The Players continued to perform at Leland JHS for the next 32 years. Then in 1961, they renovated an open-air picnic pavilion at Inverness School on Seven Locks Road in Potomac. Calling it “The Inverness Playhouse”, they christened it with the final play of their 61-62 season, “The Marriage-Go-Round” by Leslie Stevens. They stayed at Inverness for 10 years, ending their run there with “Dear Charles’ by Alan Melville in May of 1971.
During 1970-71 a new playhouse was built on Quince Orchard Blvd. in Gaithersburg. It was built to the Players’ specifications by Danac Corporation on land which Danac donated. The building was leased by the Players, and in January of 1972 “Lovers and Other Strangers” by Joseph Bolongna & Renee Taylor was performed to a large audience of local dignitaries and friends of the Players.
In the fall of 1974 a sister theater group, The Kensington-Garrett Players, which had been performing in the Kensington Armory moved their operation to the Playhouse at Quince Orchard and began sharing the space and costs of operation with the Montgomery Players. Inevitably a lot of cross pollination took place including some joint productions. The most ambitious of these was Preston Jones’ entire “Texas Trilogy” in which the three plays that make up the trilogy were played consecutively over a two-month run in September and October of 1978. Then in 1982, the title, “The Montgomery Playhouse” was adopted to give a name to this joint venture. Plays were still identified as either an MP or KG production but the separate identities of the two organizations began to blur in the eyes of the surrounding community. Finally, in 1989, The Montgomery Playhouse became the official name of the group.
During the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s the building was owned by a number of different people – not Montgomery Playhouse itself. The building was eventually sold and at the end of the lease period, the Montgomery Playhouse once again found itself without a home. The last show performed at the Quince Orchard theater was Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” ending that 25 years of history on Saturday, February 12, 2000.
However, as the saying goes, “the show must go on,” so in April of 2000 the play “Harvey” opened on the stage at Shady Grove Middle School. As the group actively looked for another venue in which to perform, they continued to create good theater at the Middle School for its patrons and the Gaithersburg community, ultimately performing 6 shows in that space.
An agreement was finally reached with Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg to perform at their brand-new Cultural Arts and Wellness Center (The Rosborough Center) and on May 4, 2001, “The Diary of Anne Frank” was performed there.
In February 2003 the newly built Arts Barn located next to the Kentlands Mansion opened its doors to the Montgomery Playhouse with a performance of Neil Simon’s “The Good Doctor.” It was the host of MP’s annual one-act festival as well as several plays over the years. Between 2003 and 2011 the organization split its season using both of these venues. After the 2010-11 season, the Playhouse ended its relationship with Asbury and focused its attention on the Arts Barn. A few alternative venues have been used in the intervening years.
Their present production is the comedy “How the Other Half Loves” by Alan Ayckbourn. There are three couples in this play, the men all working for the same firm. One of the younger men is having an affair with the wife of the oldest and when each returns home suspiciously late one night they invent a story about having to spend some time smoothing domestic matters in the home of the third couple. Both living rooms are shown in the single set, and both share a common dining room which takes on a character of its own as it serves two dinners simultaneously on two different nights. Of course, the third couple has to show up to put the fat in the fire, but that complication only adds to the fun of this famous farce.
The show runs from June 7 – June 23 at the Arts Barn located next to the Kentlands Mansion in Gaithersburg. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8:00 PM while Sunday matinées have a 2:00 curtain. Tickets for the production can be purchased by calling the Ads Barn at 301-258-6394, online or at the door.
To celebrate the 90th anniversary the Montgomery Playhouse purchased the house on Saturday, June 8 and held a reception. (Note: Unfortunately, we did not receive this information in time to tell our readership. However, you can still catch “How the Other Half Lives’ over the next two weeks.)
David Jones is the producer of “How the Other Half Loves.” He has served the Playhouse in several capacities since joining the group in 1993. He has been a past president of the group and currently serves as the Executive producer.
His directing credits include “The Answer,” “The Butterfingers Angel,” “Godspell,” “The Time of the Cuckoo,” “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and “The Complete History of America (abridged)”.
His production credits are numerous and include “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and, of course, “How the Other Half Loves.”
Jones’ acting credits are “When Did You Last See Your Trousers” (Howard), “Two Into One” (Richard Willey), “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” (Barney Cashman), “The King and I” (King), “Gianni Schicchi” (Gianni Schicchi), “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” (Ira Stone), “Born Yesterday” (Harry Brock), “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (Big Daddy), “Our Town” (Editor Webb), “The Cocktail Hour” (Bradley), “The Curare Shakespeare As You Like It” (Jacques), “The Good Doctor” (Anton Chekov), “The Sunshine Boys” (Al Lewis), “Moon for the Misbegotten” (Phil Hogan), “Book of Days” (Earl Hill), “Chapter Two” (Leo Schneider), “The Boys Next Door” (Norman), “The Sisters Rosensweig” (Mervin Kant), “Moonlight and Magnolias” (Ben Hecht), “Driving Miss Daisy” (Boolie), “God’s Favorite” (Sidney Lipton), and “Painting Churches” (Gardner Church).
He has many Set Design credits as well and will be doing set design for “How the Other Half Loves.”
I had a chance to speak to David Jones to find out more about the group and his role in its operation.
- Do you prefer directing, producing, acting or set design?
I started as an actor and that’s my first love. I like the other stuff too but I’m an actor first.
- In your various roles at Montgomery Playhouse, can you pick 2-3 most memorable?
Most memorable Roles: Barney Cashman (“Last of the Red Hot Lovers”) Big Daddy (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”), Norman (“The Boys Next Door”), Ben Hecht (“Moonlight & Magnolias”), and Gardner Church (“Painting Churches”). Directing: “The Butterfingers Angel” and “Time of the Cuckoo.” Also, a one act I directed that advanced to the 2012 ESTA Regional Festival for which I received Excellence in Directing recognition and the play was named best play – “Pillow Talk” by Peter Tolan. Favorite sets: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (my first), “Arsenic & Old Lace,” “The Sisters Rosensweig,” and “Boeing Boeing.”
- Why do you think Montgomery Players has lasted for so many years? What makes it stand out among other regional theatres?
The Montgomery Players was fortunate to have a strong group of committed people in the leadership positions in its early years. When the Players moved to Gaithersburg the influx of people and energy from the KG players when they shared the space on Quince Orchard Drive was invaluable as the players were fading. From 1972 – 2000 the building itself was the biggest draw – a 300 seat theater with a strong technical staff. We’ve always been blessed with strong talent. The past 20 years have been a struggle as the leadership has gotten older. That’s why at the end of this season we are going to sit back and reevaluate our role in the arts scene in the metropolitan area. We don’t have anything planned at this point.
When the Players started in 1929 community theater was people from a community performing plays in that community for people from that community. As people became more mobile this paradigm changed. Now it’s more about creating a community in which to operate. We’ve had varying degrees of success doing that. I have always found The Montgomery Playhouse to be a warm and welcoming place. This, however, hasn’t always been the perception of everyone.
- Can you tell us some more inside information about your present productions?
Michael Abenshein has directed other shows in the area (including a one act play in one of our one act festivals) but this is his directorial debut for an MP mainstage production. He has selected an energetic cast. The senior statesman of the group is Dino Coppa who has performed in several venues across the metropolitan area. In fact, he received a WATCH award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play recognition as David O. Selznick in Moonlight & Magnolias – a 2010 Montgomery Playhouse production.
- Is there anyone special you wish to acknowledge who has been instrumental in the group and keeping it vital all these years?
Eileen Potocnak was a force of nature. She came in with the KG Players in 1974. She served the organization as President several times over the years but also held every other board position at least once. She directed at least one play every season from 1974 – 2004. She was active in the KG Players several years before they moved to Gaithersburg. When I think of the Montgomery Playhouse it is her face I see.